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When Hard Work Doesn’t Work

(Academics, Athletics, Overcoming Challenges, Class of 2021) Permanent link   All Posts
Felicia Lombardi

Score a goal. Swim a best time. Get an A. Hit a target. These are all goals that have been defined for me growing up. For that reason, my understanding of the relationship between hard work and success has always been straightforward. If I work hard and meet all the goals, then I will be successful. After all, this method has worked for me before. In applying to the Academy, I made good grades, got good test scores, hit the community service requirement, scored enough goals, and swam fast enough. Moreover, upon reflection, doing all those things was hard, and I got appointed, which was an accomplishment, so it only made sense that I had the key to success in my hands. However, after a long and trying first year at the Academy, I found that my so-called “key to success” was not universal. On the contrary, my mindset regarding hard work and success was only good enough to keep me out of trouble, and there is a big difference between meeting expectations and being successful.

Evaluations are an essential part of any school, but especially at a military academy like the USCGA. They can be subjective and occasionally fail to reflect true merit; nevertheless, they serve an essential role in developing how personal progress and success are perceived. In soccer, strikers are evaluated by scoring statistics. In swimming, sprinters are evaluated by how fast they go, relative to both their personal bests and other swimmers. In academics, students are evaluated by GPAs and exam averages. Militarily, our fitness is evaluated by the PFE, and our cadet performance is evaluated by a Cadet Evaluation Report or CER. All these evaluations have targets, or standards of excellence. The best students are on the honor roll with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. The fittest athletes score a 270 or higher out of 300 on their PFE. The highest performing cadets have a silver star. These targets are always good to strive for, but for too long I let them define my every action, and in doing so I lost touch with my goals, and my desires.

My freshman year, I wanted to help my teams by scoring the most goals and swimming the fastest times. I wanted to memorize as much as possible, so I could pass my tests. I volunteered for an array of service events and leadership roles to boost my CER. I exercised every day to score high on the PFE. I did everything I possibly could to hit all the targets, and much to my disappointment, at the end of my first year I had fallen just short of nearly every target. It is mentally and physically exasperating when hard work doesn’t work, and the worst part was, I had no reason to complain about anything. I was successful last year, by many standards. Why wasn’t I happy?

Success is relative. That’s it. This long monologue of mundane storytelling cumulates into one epiphany I had after another goal-less soccer game this season. I can’t score because I was not playing for the love of the game. I was playing to score. Targets are a great guide, but as soon as I stopped aiming for them, I started hitting my mark. Lesson learned: do not let anybody set standards for you; set your own standards and then exceed them. My new approach this school year is to see how far my arrow will go, not how many targets I can hit along the way. It is still the beginning of my experiment, but the results look promising. Apparently, having fun gets things done.

I apologize for only talking minimally about the actual Academy in this post. With that being said, I feel like the opportunities for personal growth and achievement are an important part of the Academy. I can wholeheartedly say that I would not be having as much fun under as much stress if I did not attend a school with such a remarkable balance between rigor and support. If you have any questions, feel free to reach me at [email protected]!